The United Nations called on the EU on Thursday to reach a deal to take in 160 migrants who have been stranded in the Mediterranean for two weeks.
UNHCR refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), urged “Malta and the other European states to speed efforts to bring some 160 rescued refugees and migrants… on to dry land and to safety.”
The migrants are onboard two commercial vessels outside Malta’s territorial waters.
Malta and Italy have officially closed their ports to migrants during the coronavirus pandemic, a decision heavily criticised by aid groups.
The agencies said in a statement that the migrants, a large number of whom have fled conflict-torn Libya, must be brought ashore in Malta, but other EU countries must show solidarity by accepting some of them.
“A clearly agreed system for post-disembarkation relocation is urgently needed if we are to finally move away from a perpetual cycle of negotiations and ad-hoc arrangements that put the lives and health of people at further risk.”
The statement noted that the 160 migrants have been at sea for two weeks, “the standard quarantine period for COVID -19 – without any clarity on disembarkation.
“It is unacceptable to leave people at sea longer than necessary, especially under difficult and unsuitable conditions.”
The agencies hailed the relocation of 17 people on Wednesday from Malta to France, which “shows that solidarity at the time of COVID-19 is possible, with all necessary precautions and measures to ensure preventing further spreading of the virus in place.”
Malta, which is facing a wave of migrant arrivals, has threatened to block funding to Operation Irini, the EU’s naval mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya, if its European partners do not agree to accept some of them.